The Fishbowl Narrative


At Korea International School (KIS) we offer professional development in-house, every day and we have transformed the learning culture at the school. ‘The Fishbowl’ is a highly visible, purpose built training room where students can see their teachers learning every day. It serves as a stimulus for deeper engagement in classroom integration, and a partnership between our teachers, students, administration, and the technology department.


The Fishbowl is our Flagship

Few things unify a team more than having a common program. The Fishbowl is a unifying force with this EdTech Team. In it a laboratory is naturally formed, one where new ideas can be posed and tested, leadership can be identified and given life to, and for each member to lay open their strengths and weaknesses as an educator. The Fishbowl has provided opportunities that most educators dream of. The opportunity to create lessons from the ground up with a group of relatively like-minded colleagues, collaborate on resources and structure, and then deliver to department standards, is at times exhilarating.

The Context:

Korea International School (KIS) is a private, proprietary, non-profit, nonsectarian school established in 2000 in the Gangnam neighborhood of southern Seoul. In 2006, KIS relocated to a modern, state-of-the-art facility in the rapidly-growing southern Seoul suburb of Pangyo. The stated mission of KIS is to “inspire students with a passion for learning and to cultivate the competence, self assurance, initiative, and creativity necessary for success in the global community.” In 2007, we launched a 1:1 laptop program at KIS to give students the skills needed in the digital, information-rich 21st century workplace. KIS offers a fully Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)-accredited K-12, comprehensive university preparatory curriculum. KIS’s enrollment has grown each year since its inception. Our Seoul campus (PK-5) has an enrollment of 120 students while the total enrollment on the Pangyo campus for the 2013-2014 school year is 1230 (PK-12); high school enrollment has increased five percent to 518 students, including 121 in our senior class. The majority of KIS students are fluent in both English and Korean. All of our graduates have or will attend a post-secondary school. Thirty-seven percent of our students are U.S. passport holders, Fifty-one percent Korean passport holders, and the rest are from other countries. Students are predominantly ethnically Korean. The parents of KIS students are university-educated and work in professional and executive-level occupations. Enrollment is selective.

Faculty (KIS School Profile, 2013-14)

KIS has 178 full-time faculty members: 135 U.S. citizens, 15 Canadians citizens, 5 Korean citizens, and 23 from other countries. 112 hold a Masters degree, 63 hold a Bachelor’s degree and 3 hold Doctoral degrees. The average teaching experience is 11.6 years. Class sizes are small with most classes ranging from 20-22 students. The student-to-faculty ratio in the high school is 9:1.

Situation, environment, history

Korea International School is a co-ed educational facility in Seongnam, Korea with a student body of 1200. The school is 1:1 with Macbook computers in grades 6-12 and 1:1 with iPads in grades 3-5. During the the end of the 2007-08 school year, the director, Rich Boerner, created two half-time positions for EdTech Specialists in the secondary for the coming school year. The role of the EdTech Specialist was to co-plan, co-teach, and provide professional development to faculty. The next year saw an EdTech Specialist position added to the elementary school. Later in the end of the 2010-11 school year, the current director, Dr. Stephen Cathers, had a purpose built training facility created and appointed Ben Summerton to be the Director of Educational Technology and extended the existing EdTech Specialists positions to be full-time for the coming 2011-12 school year. The training center was quickly nicknamed “The Fishbowl” due to its large windows, a design decision to emphasise the transparency of learning and to cultivate an environment in which students could see their teachers also actively engaged in learning. Currently the EdTech Team is comprised of four EdTech Specialists who work K-12 with faculty and an Director of Educational Technology who handles administrative duties, serves as liaison between EdTech and IT Departments, as well as doing EdTech Specialist work.

Origins of The Fishbowl Model

The Korea International School united the EdTech department for the 2011-12 school year. Prior to that, technology integration specialists were assigned to a division, and had a 50% teaching workload. There was a technology coordinator who worked in the IT office. The EdTech team met regularly, but rarely teamed up for activities, with the exception of organizing some professional development days that were hosted on campus, with KIS teachers presenting all workshops.

The role of delivering a professional development program began in early 2011 when the EdTech Team took on the responsibility of training teachers how to use Apple Remote Desktop, so the teachers could monitor their students’ activity on their computers. Because all secondary teachers were required to participate in the training, the EdTech Team decided to conduct the trainings during a one week period within the school day, so that teachers could attend during their prep time, at their convenience. The feedback from the teachers on the structure for this type of schedule was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers appreciated not having to stay after school, and loved that they had several opportunities to attend. The feedback from the EdTech Team was that it was a significant time saver to train in small groups, as opposed to the usual strategy of one to one training as individuals requested to be trained. It was after this feedback that the original idea for The Fishbowl professional development program was born.

The Introduction of The Fishbowl

The EdTech Team began planning the model for professional development for the 2011-2012 school year. Some changes that facilitated the model were the unification of the EdTech Team in a single, centrally located EdTech Consulting Centre, and all team members would now be dedicated to school-wide technology integration full time. Another important change was the construction of a purpose built training room with glass walls, so that students could see their teachers learning every day as to encourage a culture of learning where all members of KIS are involved, not just students.

At the commencement of the 2011-2012 school year, the training room was nicknamed “The Fishbowl” for these glass walls, and the opportunity for the passersby to look in and see what was going on. The Fishbowl is a symbol for a continuous and participatory learning culture. Five weeks were spent preparing sessions and the groundwork was laid for the launch. In week 6 the EdTech team proudly presented ‘Pages 101’, echoing the emphasis on productivity from the previous year’s ‘ARD’ offerings.

A model of efficiency becomes a Vision

The Fishbowl emerged organically from a series of events described above, as well as in the broader international context of schools beginning to invest in not only technologies, but educators to lead the implied learning that accompanies it. Technology alone of course does not deliver outcomes central to the mission of a school; however, the investment in teachers who can deliver capacity can make a difference. The creation of departments dedicated to effective application of technology for learning represents this investment and professional development quickly and logically emerge in these circumstances.

EdTech had previously used a one-to-one model for professional development. We saw The Fishbowl as our opportunity to be more efficient with training time by working with small groups, and to use the opportunity of the training session to build relationships with the teachers by getting to know them and what they were doing in their classrooms. The hope has always been that this would lead to direct collaboration between the teacher and members of the EdTech Team that would result in technology integration in the classroom with a member of EdTech supporting the teacher as needed with lesson delivery, co-teaching, or support during class. The Fishbowl consumes 2-3 hours of presentation time weekly for each EdTech team member. In that time each individual may attend to 10-20 people and have follow-up consultations with several, which often lead to in class collaboration. Far from being a sacrifice of time, this is significant investment in developing confidence in the use of technology, the application of technology in relation to curricular goals, and most importantly: relationships.

These experiences, supported by academic research during the first year provided reassurance that we could be on the right track with our model. More than a time saver, we learned that what was emerging was something a little more compelling.

The hallmark of the EdTech Department at Korea International School is one that can be described, and without overstatement or sentiment, as tight-knit. It operates from a central ‘EdTech Consulting Centre’, and the people that were brought to the department formed a natural chemistry conducive to creativity and action, spurred also by perhaps a healthy Darwinian instinct to ‘justify our existence or perish’. In the context of Korea International School, explaining the concept of a technology related department that does not fix wifi, or a department of teachers with no classes to teach, fed this instinct.

The Mission: We Build Capacity

The purpose of having an EdTech team at Korea International is to develop practices around teaching and learning that match those of the investment that is made in the area of technology. It is a frank admission that technology does not alone deliver better outcomes for students. The EdTech team has a responsibility to inspire all learners to pursue the advantages that technology, when if used appropriately and strategically, can potentially deliver real outcomes. Professional development is of course a key strategy in this mission and the goal of the EdTech Team is therefore to build capacity in all teachers interested in participating in professional development.

Pedagogy or Productivity/Efficiency?

Capacity, when one is concerned with building it, can quickly become a broad term to use. In 2011-12 the EdTech team was yet to confront this question, which is perhaps why the model has been successful. We did not feel any such constraints. The concept of what we were trying to achieve developed as we began to get a feel for what we were contributing to the school. To begin something was enough for us.

The Fishbowl is premised on delivering learning outcomes for students, parents and teachers. But in a K-12 environment that is a broad community with quite broad needs. How does a team of four or five people offer pedagogically relevant training in these circumstances?

The reality was one that might well be the source of greatest criticisms of The Fishbowl model. As it became apparent to the EdTech team, it did not sit entirely comfortably. The ideal  is that in most professional development programs the emphasis would be on improving our understanding about learners and learning. The takeaways challenge our pedagogical practices. We become better teachers.

The Fishbowl program presents an eclectic mix mostly comprised of introducing new ideas or updating older ones. We seek to develop informed, empowered and confident users of technology. At every opportunity we relate what’s on offer to application in the classroom. But a lot of the time, the EdTech team is concerned with skill development.

Is this enough to justify the investment of time, personnel and effort for almost every day of the school year? Schools who do not have capacity to deliver what we have delivered will invariably look to leaner or more efficient modes of delivery such as various forms of flipped learning models. In fact, our department has too. For example, we’ve considered recording sessions and making them available for teachers to consume in their own time. If ‘saving time’ was a founding premise for this professional development model, then wouldn’t this achieve that even more efficiently?

We haven’t yet done this, and with good reason…

The Importance of Relationships

The classroom is an intimate place. In many ways it is like one’s home. Strangers are not allowed in, and the dynamic usually changes when someone who is not part of the class enters the room. Teachers generally do not have invited guests in class, and it is rare to have another teacher assisting with the lesson.

The Fishbowl is more than a facility imbued with symbolism of learning culture such as that suggested by transparent walls, or where we sometimes uncomfortably straddle the desire to focus on pedagogy with the imperative to deliver tech-inspiration or skill based training. Importantly, The Fishbowl is a social space and this is perhaps one of the most compelling outcomes on which one might build a program.

As a stand-alone department within Korea International School, with no mandate or grade level/faculty department assignments for team members, there is considerable freedom of movement to explore the most important determiner of success as an EdTech Specialist. This of course is developing the relationships and networks with teachers. The Fishbowl is a meeting place where we not only get to know our teachers, but they get to know each other. Due to the peculiarity of our Middle and High School’s rolling bell schedule (4 period days with a 7 section rotation), we can never predict who is going to come to The Fishbowl and when. It takes a full 7 days for the schedule to roll around and return to an A-B-C-D period day. Meanwhile the Elementary School has a more traditional, albeit 6 day schedule. Teachers are always mixing it up with a slightly different group who attend.

For the EdTech team though, the significance of these gatherings is considerable. We find that The Fishbowl is more than professional development. It is professional networking. We get to know teacher’s strength and weaknesses, their ideas and their ideals. We get to know their barriers and hurdles and we get to know them as people.

The Fishbowl facilitates opportunities to delve deeper. Teachers who attend a session where a new tech tool is introduced to them often contact us within a few weeks of having attended to ‘pick up on that idea’ and develop it into a fully integrated and pedagogically realized concept. We typically meet in the EdTech Consulting Centre, throw ideas around and more often than not arrive at plans. The classroom door opens and suddenly we are ‘in’. This is what The Fishbowl is really about. Opening doors and creating opportunities to deliver on our student centred mandate. And it’s a huge advantage that a flipped video on YouTube for example simply cannot compete with.

It’s ultimately why we believe in The Fishbowl.

A cult of personality?

There is no mistaking the importance of getting the right people on board to not only bring the concept of The Fishbowl together, but to continue it long enough for the program to feel like it can outlive these individual contributions.

Time will tell in 2015-2016 school year and beyond whether these and the following assertions materialize, given conditions remain constant at Korea International School with the year to come being like the previous four. The 2015-2016 school year will be the first time that none of the founding members of The Fishbowl will be involved in the professional development program, having moved on to other schools.

These are the markers that we believe make continued growth and success likely to achieve:

Vision. It begins and ends with Vision. Every strong program needs to have it led by people who believe passionately in what they are trying to achieve. They take chances and constantly innovate. They can articulate the vision to all people and defend their practices based on the vision and results. We believe that the professional development program that we created is a better way for schools to provide professional development to their teachers and to build a learning culture. “We believe in The Fishbowl.”

Just in time. It is ok to set out some schedule placeholders for concepts and skills you know need to be updated and delivered year in and out. As a Google Apps For Education (GAFE) school for example, this is one such area for professional development we have and will continue to deliver each year without any doubt. But keep the schedule fluid and respond to need in time for the professional development to be timely.

Do not experiment with the schedule. The schedule is something that needs to be embedded as a routine. Careful when tinkering. Communicate it effectively.

Voluntary participation. The Fishbowl program has demonstrated that the conditions for a learning community can be cultivated, as we believe they have been. Mandating attendance will quickly diminish this culture.

Have the confidence to succeed and don’t be afraid to fail. And be patient. Change takes time. To put this into numbers, in 2011-12 The Fishbowl had 474 individual attendees. In 2014-15 this has grown to over 1400. Many sessions will have 0 attendees, and some weeks will miss the mark. Learn from it.

The Structure

The structure of The Fishbowl professional development program is currently (May 2015) four sessions a day, twenty sessions per week, with one topic each week that is selected based on the immediate needs of the school. All attendance is voluntary. This format has evolved over the years, adjusting the daily session times to find the “sweet spots” in the schedules for the different divisions, making it as convenient as possible for everyone to attend. We have offered after school sessions on several occasions, with a grand total of one attendee. Our professional development offerings have not been limited to technology integration. We have successfully collaborated with various faculty members to host sessions such as research, library databases, and curriculum. In addition, when requested we will customize sessions for grade levels, curricular departments, or any interested groups, and deliver those in a private setting.

Just In Time

The Fishbowl is not a ‘course’. There is no structure or sequence to how the various professional development offerings are structured or scheduled. The Fishbowl PD is a real time response to identified needs.

So the process is both a complex one to replicate, but an easy one to describe. The premise is as follows: the role of an educational technology specialist is to assist the advancement of learning through appropriate applications of technology. Working and collaborating with teachers is therefore premised on there being a professional relationship conducive to such processes. And we have our collective ear planted firmly to the ground.

The question does indeed often get asked: how do you decide what professional development to offer? What does that process look like? The answer though is ‘just in time’. Literally in many senses of the word. At times it’s intense.

Each week during the scheduled department meeting, The Fishbowl schedule is a permanent agenda item. Ensuing discussion generally unearths some common threads about what is ‘going on’ across the K-12 spectrum. Sometimes issues emerge that call for immediate action. Sometimes it’s a slow-burn. Sometimes it’s a call to innovation where we put an idea on the table that might appeal to those on the front end of the ‘change’ curve. It’s a mixed bag, but it ends in a decision about what will be offered. Discussion about any given idea focuses firmly on context, needs, target audience, and communicating the concept. Attendance is voluntary: so are we going to be promoting or selling the idea? It’s always a combination.

A lead is then assigned, who assumes responsibility for turning out a draft for the session, or at least initiating the basic infrastructure that gets put into place to support a session. This includes creating a draft blog post and typically a Google Slides presentation so that all members of the team can contribute content in a convenient way (sometimes the presentation is not used in the blog post, but solely as an internal planning document). The lead writer then typically plans and drafts promotional material, such as emails and printed advertisements. Finally, the team meets late in the week to go through the material and if possible do a walk-through of the session. We then go live on Monday morning in session 1, again with all members of the team present and the lead writer presenting.


The EdTech team had always wanted to make professional development sessions as easy as possible to attend. KIS has different bell schedules in the elementary and secondary. We spent a lot of time trying to find the best times that are in the middle of class periods for secondary and elementary without being too close to the beginning or the end of class. Over the years we have adjusted those times. When we selected the location for The Fishbowl we did so because it is a somewhat centrally located and highly visible. We thought that if teachers had to go too far out of their way they would not attend. Incidentally, our assumptions were wrong about this. When we surveyed the staff about why they didn’t attend a given session not one person cited location as a factor for not attending.

Buy In

As with any program on campus, buy in is a key factor to success. Fortunately from the beginning The Fishbowl had the support of the leadership team. They not only supported the creation of the unified department, consulting center, and The Fishbowl, the leadership team regularly attends Fish Bowl sessions. Over the years, in addition to leading by example, the various school administrators have suggested and strongly recommended that their teachers attend specific sessions that they felt were important to their respective division.

Another important factor for getting the teachers’ buy in to The Fishbowl professional development program has been listening to the teachers’ needs. Meeting the teachers’ needs is our top priority.


The Edtech Team does its very best to try to deliver the same session twenty times a week. Our goal is that no matter who is presenting the content and delivery is consistent. To ensure this the team usually will do a run through of the session the week before it will be in The Fishbowl.

Monday morning, session 1 is where the focus of the session is strictly scrutinized. With all EdTech in attendance, and with teachers also there, it all gets real. When the session is over is where things become most interesting because we then give a serious critique of the session. Sometimes this results in minor tinkering with the format (often cutting excess fat from the session), and sometimes structural overhaul. Back to the drawing board. We have about an hour and a half to ‘rescue’ the session. This is usually because we have lost sight of the session goal, and the structure is meandering – often a consequence of having a few people collaborating on a single lesson. But, we fix those things. Sometimes too it invokes some serious reflection about the way in which the session has been facilitated, led, taught.

Although our goal is to always deliver a very similar session, we do actively tailor the session to particular people in attendance, trying hard to make sure we cover the key points. The needs of third grade teachers can vary significantly from those of the high school science department. If we have attendees who are more advanced in the session topic, we will skip the basics and move right to their level to address their needs. It is also possible that different participants will have very different reasons for attending a session and we will try to customize the session as much as possible to meet the needs. 90% of the time the session is about 90% the same. Members of the EdTech team routinely check to see if there is a particularly large attendance or a diverse group in any given session. If there is, one or more of the team members will support the person presenting by helping individuals or small groups within the session. Upon request we will also create a version of a session for any specific group (grade level or subject matter) that directly meets their specific needs, and deliver it in a setting of their choice.


The promotion for the weekly professional development sessions is aggressive, with original materials created each week. Promotional materials include fliers placed all around campus, a looping slide-show displayed in multiple locations, and a blog post with all resources for the session. In addition, there is a daily email sent out to all faculty highlighting the session, including the daily presenter lineup, and a link to the blog, where all resources for the session are publicly posted.

As attendance to the professional development sessions in The Fishbowl is voluntary and because teachers preparation time is often filled with a variety of commitments, it is important to “remind” the teachers with a variety of strategies. Additionally, it became apparent early on that in an busy, program rich environment such as a school, to remain under the spotlight, these strategies have needed to evolve. Familiarity breeds fatigue: downward trends in attendance need to be observed. Creativity in promoting The Fishbowl creates creative challenges which the team always enjoys. It keeps things fresh for everyone.


Regular and annual feedback have always have always helped guide the EdTech team’s decision making in regards to The Fishbowl. We have utilized surveys at the start of the year to help determine the direction and level of the professional development. We have also collected evidence at the end of the year (see Appendix 2) to better understand how well we met the needs of the teachers in The Fishbowl. We also request feedback after every session, using a form we call “Fish Food” to get immediate feedback on each presentation, and to give participants an easy way to request a follow up on the given topic.

There is also a lot of anecdotal feedback in the form of comments in the hallways, emails, tweets about the session, and once in a while baked goods or other forms of appreciation being brought to the office.

Evidence of Success

In the end of year survey that is responded to by teachers, 81% of respondents in the past two years stated that their use of technology in the classroom increased in the past year compared to previous years, and a significant number attribute the increase to the support from the EdTech team and professional development in The Fishbowl. In addition, over 94% responded that they incorporate what they learned in The Fishbowl into their teaching/professional activities “some of the time,” “most of the time,” or “always.” When asked how people feel when leaving a Fish Bowl session, the most common responses are: inspired, empowered, fortunate, energized, motivated, overwhelmed. 

Future of The Fishbowl 

Is The Fishbowl a model for professional development in schools? Or, is is a model that is ideally suited for how we have developed it: for educational technology that has a skill focus leaning towards pedagogical application? 

The vision, as it has emerged during the course of the past four years has increasingly indicated that in fact it really is the former. We believe that this model has the potential to be used much more broadly than how we have used it. And to this end, we have ventured beyond the boundaries of our technology oriented mandate.

For example, we offered themed weeks in The Fishbowl with a variety of guest presenters. These have included our Library teachers, Student Support teachers (‘Strength in Diversity’ Week), One2World (1:1 iPad) teachers (‘One2World_revolution’ week), and all teachers who attended Learning 2.0 Conference in 2014 (‘L2 Remix’ week). We have also had students present in The Fishbowl, and have run parent sessions too. These all point to the future, one where the is broader and more frequent participation regarding what’s on offer, and who attends.

The potential for greater success lies firmly in building a broader base of participation in terms of input and offerings.


If The Fishbowl is a program and facility for building the capacity of our teachers in the use of technology to facilitate learning, then The Fishbowl equally has served as a teaching laboratory for the EdTech Team itself. Each of us has observed improvement of each other’s skill and repertoire as an educator, and have observed it honestly in ourselves. It’s a happy consequence of delivering approximately 100 sessions on average per year.

Building a Learning Community. Ongoing Success & Evolution of The Fishbowl

Appendix 1: EdTech Team Members

Korea International School EdTech Team Members and the years they were involved in The Fishbowl (2010-2015):

Bruce Roadside 2010-2011 (Head of department)

Christine Usyak 2010-2011

Mark Page-Bothello 2010-2012

Tim Bray 2010-2014

Steve Katz 2010-2015

Ben Summerton 2011-2015 (Head of department)

David Lee 2011-2015

Chris Bernhardi 2012-2014

Art Schultz 2012-2015

Rick Mallon 2014-2015

Amalia Kingsbury 2014-2015 

Appendix 2: Links to survey results

June 2014 Summary

June 2015 Summary